‘The unconquerable beast’: Manchester comic on sexism, honesty, and Laughing Cows ahead of Frog and Bucket gig

Female comedy in the UK is rapidly gaining steam. 

With Canadian Katherine Ryan’s ‘Kathbum’ selling out faster than any other comedy show at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and the BBC issuing a contentious ban on all-male panel shows, British comediennes are receiving more public exposure than ever before.

The current climate, whilst not completely free of prejudice, is still a far cry from last decade’s male-dominated comedy scene.

And the Laughing Cows, a Manchester based all-female comedy group, are hosting an event at Frog and Bucket on Oldham Street this Sunday.

The group was formed in 1998 after founder Hazel O’Keefe was told by a London promoter that he ‘wouldn’t take the risk’ of booking more than one female comic on the same bill.

Since their inception 17 years ago, the group has hosted an array of high-profile comics including Jo Brand, Jenny Éclair, and Peep Show’s Isy Suttie.

In recent years they have been riding the tide of female comedy, launching the Women’s Comedy Festival in 2013.

Headlining this Sunday’s Laughing Cow event is Sally Anne Hayward, with her confrontational and caustic comedic brilliance.

Also performing on Sunday are the Irish alternative comic Eleanor Tiernan and Manchester local Hayley Ellis.

But the act to watch out for is the effortlessly hilarious Kiri Pritchard McLean, whose act combines self-deprecation with a homely wit.

MM caught up with Kiri about the importance of honesty, prejudice, and her fear of the forever-ness of the internet ahead of her Sunday performance.

She said: “I think audiences can sort of smell bullshit, so I think it’s important to be truthful. And also, it’s a lot easier to write if you don’t have to make stuff up.

“That’s what I like talking about anyway, my family and my partner and stuff like that. Everyone’s got someone they care about, people can relate to that.”

She explained that, while there are still certain audience members who’d rather nip to the loo than watch a female comedic, the prejudice is waning.

“There can be a prejudice against female comedians. But people don’t say it as much as they used to,” she said.

“If you go back five years, there were a lot more people saying it out loud. I’m noticing it less and less.

“We get a lot of disadvantages in other ways, don’t get me wrong.

“There are still some audiences where they will see that you’re a woman, and they’ll get up and go to the toilet, or go out for a cigarette, or they’ll just turn their back to you. That’s just normal.”

The sexism of the audience tends to be decreasing quicker than the misogyny in the industry itself, according to Kiri.

She said: “I think audiences move faster than the industry. Audiences are quicker to sort of go ‘oh yeah, it’s just a person!’, when the industry can be a bit more reticent in that they get worried about booking more than one woman and all that kind of bullshit.”

Laughing Cows offers female comedians the support and platform the need, which is why Kiri says she is so ‘loyal’ to the group.

“Working with Laughing Cows has been great. Everyone has been really supportive and given me stage time when I’ve needed it, when I’ve been really new,” she told MM.

“That’s why I’m very loyal to Laughing Cows, they’ve been very good to me over the years. I do appreciate that because when you’re first starting out, it’s stage time that gets you competent quicker than anything else.

“And I appreciate Hazel’s commitment to making sure women have a good, well run club. There are more all-female comedy nights but Hazel’s is the only one that pays the same as the mixed comedy nights do.

“Sometimes you have to take a pay cut for the privilege of performing on an all-female bill, which to me totally doesn’t make sense.

“That’s something that, as people who fight for equality, we should be against.”

Kiri doesn’t just perform, she also teaches at comedy workshops because she believes it can help open up conversation and confidence.

She said: “I really love teaching. I’ve been working with young people in Bolton with mental health issues.

“I think comedy can really unlock important conversations, when people put their experiences into their own words and sort of take ownership of them.”

Although she clearly has so much faith in comedy and is proud of her work, Kiri is also her greatest critic, which is why she tries to hide any internet clips of her shows.

“I’m usually pretty good at hiding it all, just because I’m like ‘oh I’ve done that bit wrong’,” she said.

“I’m really protective over what goes online, because I feel like the internet’s forever, and so many people have seen that clip and I tried to really hide it for ages.”

So it is the fleeting moments and unpredictability of actually performing live that the comic loves the most, describing her attraction to the ‘unconquerable beast’.

She said: “Live performance is what’s so special about stand-up comedy, and why it’s still such a roaring trade.

“It’s because there’s nothing quite like whatever happens in the room on the night with that collection of people.

“No two gigs are the same. Your material might be the same, but how it’s going to pan out with them is just such an unconquerable beast and that’s what’s so attractive about it, because it’s so changeable.

“It can depend on what you had for tea before you went on, how much you’ve had to pay for drinks, or what the weather’s like. You can never have the same gig twice, and that’s great.”

Every performer, no matter what their genre of choice, has their own creative method and writing process.

Kiri says for her the most important thing is using her fellow comedians and her audience as a ‘sounding board’.

“I’m quite lucky that I started at the same time as a lot of other comedians and we all bounce ideas off each other, so I’ve got good sounding boards,” she said.

“I can’t typically write things down, even with my sketch group it’s all committed to memory. I tend to have an idea, and then I go on stage and sort of work it out there.

“The pressure of doing it in front of an audience makes you find the funny a lot quicker. If I’m trying to write stuff, I tend to over-write it whereas if I do it on stage, I just get to the funny as quick as I can.”

The Laughing Cows night at Frog and Bucket, in Northern Quarter, kicks off at 8pm with doors opening at 7pm and Kiri is as excited as you should be about the line-up.

She said: “I always like doing this gig and the line-up’s brilliant as well.

“Eleanor Tiernan is brilliant, she’s really really good, she’s doing really great, interesting stand-up and not forgetting to be funny with it. I’m really excited, it’s a great bill.” 

To get your tickets or more info about the Laughing Cows on Sunday September 27 click here. And to find out more about Kiri’s visit her website.

Image courtesy of Dana Voss, with thanks.

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